The AIPAC Case Fallout
Israel, ‘espionage,’ and a now-failed political prosecution.
By James Kirchick, WSJ
Four years, millions in legal fees and a half-dozen conspiracy theories later, the Justice Department dropped its case yesterday against the two former staffers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) indicted in 2005 on espionage-related charges. Now where do Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman — and everyone else besmirched, including California Democrat Jane Harman — apply to get their reputations back?
Attorney General Eric Holder deserves credit for dropping the charges, though we wish he had also announced that the case should never have been brought. Instead, the prosecution acted only after adverse judicial rulings made the case virtually impossible to win. Among the tests imposed on the prosecution by a federal judge was whether the “secrets” Messrs. Rosen and Weissman supposedly disseminated to colleagues, journalists and an Israeli embassy official were closely held, and whether the pair relayed them in bad faith.
Nothing like that happened here. The core of the prosecution’s case concerns a memo sent to the men from Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin — now serving a 12-year prison sentence — about internal White House deliberations on Iran policy. The government also used Mr. Franklin (whose main offense was taking classified documents home) to plant an apparently bogus story with Mr. Weissman claiming that American and Israeli lives were in imminent danger.
None of this should have amounted to much, and certainly not criminal indictments under the archaic 1917 Espionage Act. Reporting on White House policy deliberation is the daily bread of any Washington reporter: If the offense were really criminal, half the Beltway press corps could be indicted. Mr. Franklin’s mishandling of classified documents deserved sanction, but 12 years in jail is far worse than the misdemeanor and fine meted out to former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger for stuffing secret documents in his clothing. As for the planted story, putting the defendants to a moral quandary — share classified information and save lives; keep it secret and let people die — is the worst form of entrapment.
But Washington is not a normal world, and this prosecution needs to be understood in the context in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion and the swirl of conspiracy theories about “neocon” and Jewish influence over U.S. policy. In this bizarro reading of events, President Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice chose to invade Iraq due to the influence of Jewish officials such as Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, Scooter Libby and Richard Perle. One sign of those times: In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Franklin’s arrest, CBS’s Lesley Stahl asked whether “Israel [used] the analyst to try to influence U.S. policy on the war in Iraq?” In other words, the Aipac case resembled a political hit more than a legitimate “espionage” case.
The same goes for the recent fallout involving Ms. Harman. Late last month, Congressional Quarterly reported that Ms. Harman and a person described as a “suspected Israeli agent” had been wiretapped by the government sometime before the 2006 election in which she allegedly agreed to intervene with the Bush Administration on behalf of Messrs. Weissman and Rosen.
In exchange, the unnamed “agent” is said to have promised Ms. Harman lobbying help in her effort to chair the Intelligence Committee, where she was then the ranking minority member, if Democrats won Congress. The Democrats did win the House, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed over Ms. Harman in favor of Texan Sylvestre Reyes.
At this point, things get murkier. Who did the wiretapping? CQ reported that it was the National Security Agency. But Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair denies this, and other news stories claim the wiretap was placed by the FBI. When did the wiretap take place? Different accounts put the date at either 2005 or 2006, a material point since in 2005 it was hardly clear the Democrats would take the House. Who was the “suspected Israeli agent”? Ms. Harman has said she doesn’t even remember the conversation, but she is certain that anyone she would have discussed the case with would have been “an American citizen.”
As for the charge of influence peddling, Ms. Harman told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that she “didn’t contact the Justice Department or anybody in the Administration, ever, asking for lenient sentences for anybody.” Ms. Harman has also written Attorney General Holder demanding that he release the full transcript of the wiretapped conversation. We’re told Mr. Holder hasn’t responded.
Now the Harman story is spinning off in even stranger directions, such as whether then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales quashed the Justice Department inquiry because Ms. Harman could be helpful in asking the New York Times not to expose the existence of warrantless wiretaps of foreign terrorists. Ms. Harman is also being attacked by noted jurists Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow, and she may face a left-wing primary challenge. Especially after the Ted Stevens debacle, we’d have thought Mr. Holder would want to clear the air.
Mr. Holder should also re-examine the Aipac case from start to finish. The real scandal in this case starts with the attempted criminalization of policy differences and legitimate lobbying, and ends up in the wiretapping of Congress and the wrecked careers of Messrs. Rosen, Weissman and Franklin. This smacks of abuse of power, and somebody at Justice should be held to account.
Will Steve Rosen’s Attackers Apologize?
The New Republic
Mike wrote earlier today of the federal government’s decision to drop its scurrilous espionage case against two former AIPAC employees, an abuse of prosecutorial power that ruined the careers of these men and damaged the reputation of America’s premier pro-Israel organization. That’s all well and good. The question I have is whether the legion of bloggers who recently attacked one of those men, Steve Rosen, over his role in l’affaire Chas Freeman, will acknowledge this news and apologize for their trumping of charges that have now been dropped.
Rosen, you may recall, was one of the first people to note Freeman’s selection as head of the National Intelligence Council in February. Not long after, and with no prodding from Rosen, other writers (myself included) began to criticize Freeman for what we viewed as his indifference to human rights, coziness with totalitarian regimes from Beijing to Riyadh and–yes–his blinkered outlook on the Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly, his lending credence to the Stephen Walt-John Mearsheimer worldview which places America’s relationship with Israel at the center of our foreign policy problems.
As soon as the Freeman story blew up into a major internet controversy, a whole host of (mostly left-leaning) bloggers began launching ad hominem attacks on Rosen. They chose not to contend with the entirely legitimate criticisms Rosen was making of Freeman’s views and associations, but instead went after Rosen personally, arguing that because he had been indicted for espionage, nothing he said could be taken seriously. And by dint of our agreeing with Rosen, all of us who had expressed serious concern over the Freeman appointment were thus tarred as being willing dupes of “The Lobby.” Joining in this crusade were:
M.J. Rosenberg: Director of Policy Analysis for the Israel Policy Forum:
“I just can’t get over the idea that a guy on trial for espionage has the temerity to take on a lifelong public servant for not being loyal to the country that he, Steve Rosen, is accused by the United States of being too loyal to.”
Max Blumenthal: Author of an entire article about Rosen entitled, “Accused AIPAC Spy Leads Attack on Chas Freeman.”
Andrew Sullivan: “Max Blumenthal profiles the leader of the anti-Freeman brigade: Steve Rosen, facing trial this spring for allegedly passing US national security secrets to reporters. No, I didn’t make that up.”
Robert Dreyfuss: The former Middle East Editor of Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review who now covers national security for both The American Prospect and The Nation wrote of Rosen as “the former official of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee who’s been indicted for pro-Israeli espionage in a long-running AIPAC scandal.”
Matthew Yglesias: “Meanwhile, that the anti-Freeman charge would be led by Rosen, who’s a ‘former AIPAC official’ because he was charged with espionage crimes, is slightly bizarre.”
Glenn Greenwald: The self-styled defender of American liberties observed that, “the man leading the anti-Freeman assault was Steve Rosen, the long-time AIPAC official currently on trial for violations of the Espionage Act in connection with the transmission of classified U.S. information intended for Israel.” (Apparently Greenwald’s presumption of innocence only applies to terrorists intent on murdering untold numbers of American citizens).
And, of course, where would any crackpot anti-Israel conspiracy theory be without the musings of Stephen Walt, who compared Freeman’s critics to Joseph McCarthy and referred to Rosen specifically as “the same guy who is now on trial for passing classified U.S. government information to Israel.”
These are just a handful of the many, many Freeman defenders who wielded the Rosen indictment as a cudgel with which to smear all of Freeman’s critics, and who held up Rosen’s opposition to Freeman as if his involvement alone relieved them from the burden of addressing the merits of the case.
To his credit, Spencer Ackerman, who also inveighed against Rosen during the Freeman controversy, writes today that the government’s case against Rosen “amounted to the criminalization of extremely routine practices in Washington: acquiring and distributing information that’s overclassified” and went onto say:
During the Chas Freeman affair, when Steve Rosen was leading the charge against Freeman’s appointment to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council for alleged hostility to Israel, alleged disinterest in human rights, and insinuated nefarious loyalties to China and Saudi Arabia, I remarked that Rosen shouldn’t have gone after another pro-Israel lobbyist with whom he disagreed over Freeman while being wrapped up in the case. I shouldn’t have said that Rosen was under indictment for spying for Israel, since that was a misstatement of the case. The point that I should have made is that someone who was railroaded in this case, with its intimations of dual loyalty, should be circumspect about flinging such charges against other people. Maybe we can all take a deep breath here–doubtful, but maybe–and reflect that it’s good for everyone who desires openness in government that the flimsy charges against Weissman and Rosen are on their way out, regardless of the politics of the accused.
This is a bit tendentious (Ackerman’s admission that Rosen was “railroaded” ought to have absolved him of being “circumspect” about raising perfectly legitimate questions about Freeman’s being on the payroll of the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments), but it’s far preferable to the radio silence in other corners of the liberal blogosphere.